Mei-mei Berssenbrugge in 1975. Photo by Nancy Wong. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Mei-mei Berssenbrugge (born October 5, 1947) is a contemporary American poet, winner of 2 American Book Awards.



Her work is often associated with the Language School, the poetry of the New York School, phenomenology, and visual art. She is married to painter Richard Tuttle, with whom she has frequently collaborated.[1]

Youth and educationEdit

Berssenbrugge was born in Beijing, China, to a Chinese mother and a Dutch-American father, but grew up in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. Her brother, Richard, is an engineer and Japanese calligrapher, and her sister, Annie, is a doctor. She was educated at Barnard, Reed, and Columbia University. After receiving her M.F.A. from Columbia in 1974, she settled in rural northern New Mexico, which has remained her primary residence ever since.


After receiving her degree, Berssenbrugge became active in the multicultural poetry movement of the 1970s along with her good friend Leslie Marmon Silko as well as Ishmael Reed, theater director Frank Chin, and political activist Kathleen Chang. Berssenbrugge taught at the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe, where she co-founded the internal literary journal Tyuonyi.

Traveling frequently to New York City, Berssenbrugge became engaged in the rich cultural flourishing of the abstract art movement, and was influenced by New York School poets John Ashbery, Barbara Guest, James Schuyler and Anne Waldman, and then the Language poets, including Charles Bernstein, as well as artist Susan Bee.[2]

She sits on the contributing editorial board to the literary journal Conjunctions.


Berssenbrugge's poetry is known for its mix of philosophical meditation and personal experience, and for moving quickly between abstract language and the concrete particulars of immediate perception. Her poems often contain subtle shifts of grammar and perspective, and Berssenbrugge often works with collage to produce unexpected juxtapositions. Her work is also known for its exploration of the complexities of cultural and political identity, an interest informed by her own experience of cultural and linguistic displacement.

Fish SoulsEdit

Fish Souls is Berssenbrugge's first published collection of poems. It was published by Greenwood Press in 1971. Only 100 numbered copies were published. Information about this volume is scarce.

Summits Move With the TideEdit

Summits Move With the Tide, subtitled (on the cover of the second edition) Poems and a Play, is Berssenbrugge's second collection of poems. It was published by the Greenfield Review Press in 1974, and later in 1982. The acknowledgments page indicates that some of the poems previously appeared in First Issue, Intro 3, East-West Journal, Cathedral, Ash Tree, Gidra, and Greenwood Press. In contrast to her later books, most the poems in the collection are short, with only a few carrying over to new pages. Additionally, only two poems are broken into numbered stanzas, a format Berssenbrugge would use in later poems. The poems in the collection are organized into four groups: three groups of poems, and one play, One, Two Cups. [3]

The book contains the following poems:

Group 1: Aegean; Finn Song To the Bear Ghosts; Bog; Book of the Dead, Prayer; El Bosco; Spirit; Hopi Basketweaver Song; Beetle is Born, Lives ...; Los Sangre de Cristos; In Bhaudanath; Snow Mountains; Red Backs & Autumn Leaves ...; and Ghost.

Group 2: Old Man Let's Go Fishing In ...; Travelling [sic] Through Your Country; Propeller Sleep; Fish & Swimmers & Lonely Birds ...; Spaces are Death; The Second Moment; The Third Moment; Perpetual Motions; Leaving Your Country; The Old Know By Midsummer; and Abortion.

Group 3: Written Before Easter in New York; Chronicle; Tracks; On The Winter Solstice; Blossom; Hudson Ice Floes; Poor Mouse; Sky; and March Wind.

Group 4: The play, One, Two Cups.

Random PossessionEdit

Random Possession was published by I. Read Books in 1982. On the contents page the poems are separated spatially into five unnumbered groups (with only the first three listed on the contents page). The pagination bears out the scheme, with one empty page between the groups. The book contains the following poems:

Group 1: Chronicle.

Group 2: The Membrane; Rabbit, Hair, Leaf; On the Mountain with the Deer; The Suspension Bridge; Numbers of the Date Become the Names of Birds; Spring Street Bar; Heat Wave; The Intention of Two Rivers; For The Tails of Comets; and Sleep.

Group 3: The Field for Blue Corn; The Reservoir; The White Beaver; Breaking the Circumference; A Deer Listening; You and You; and Goodbye, Goodbye.

Group 4: The Scientific Method (for Walter); Walter Calls It a Dream Screen; The Constellation Quilt; Run-off and Silt; The Translation of Verver; and Commentary.

Group 5: Tail.

The Heat BirdEdit

In The Heat Bird, Berssenbrugge shifted to a long-verse format. The book contains only four poems, all several pages long and broken into numbered stanzas: Pack Rat Sieve; Farolita; Ricochet Off Water; and The Heat Bird. The verso indicates that some of the poems in the book were previously published in Conjunctions, Contact II, Roof, and Telephone.


Empathy was published by Station Hill Press in 1989, and contains three numbered groups of poems. The verso indicates that some of the poems appeared in Bridge, Calaban, Conjunctions, Parnassus, Temblor, and Tyuonyi. The book is dedicated to Bradford Morrow and Sheffield Van Buren, and contains the following poems:

Group 1: The Blue Taj; Tan Tien; Alakanak Break-Up; Texas; Duration of Water; The Star Field; and Chinese Space.

Group 2: Jealousy; Recitative; The Carmelites; The Margin; Naturalism; and Fog.

Group 3: War Insurance; Empathy; The Swan; Forms of Politeness; and Honeymoon.


Sphericity was published by Kelsey Street Press in 1993, and was her second collaboration with Richard Tuttle. The first edition of Sphericity was limited to 2000 copies, with the first 50 signed by Berssenbrugge and Tuttle and hand-colored by Tuttle. The book consists of six long poems, all with several numbered stanzas: Ideal; Size; Combustion; Sphericity; Experience; and Value.


Endocrinology is an artists' book made in collaboration with visual artist Kiki Smith. Forty copies were produced by Universal Limited Art Editions from a maquette made by Berssenbrugge and Smith.[4] The Kelsey Street Press edition, a facsimile of the original book, was limited to 2,000 copies, with the first 60 signed and numbered.[5] The book contains a single poem: Endocrinology.


  • 1976 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.
  • 1980 American Book Award for Random Possession.
  • 1981 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.
  • 1984 American Book Award for The Heat Bird.
  • 1990 National Endowment for the Arts Award.
  • 1990 PEN West Award [6] for Empathy.
  • 1998 Asian American Literary Award for Endocrinology.
  • 1999 Western States Book Award for Four Year Old Girl.
  • 2004 Asian American Literary Award for Nest.



  • Fish Souls. San Francisco: Greenwood Press, 1972.
  • Summits Move with the Tide. Greenfield Center, NY: Greenfield Review Press, 1974.
  • Chronicle (chapbook). Basement Editions 1978.
  • Random Possession. New York: I. Reed Books, 1979.
  • The Heat Bird. Providence, RI: Burning Deck Press, 1983.
  • Pack Rat Sieve (chapbook). New York: Cambridge Graphic Arts / Contact II Publications, 1983.
  • Hiddenness (with Richard Tuttle). New York: Library Fellows of the Whitney Museum of American Art, 1987.
  • Tan Tien. Tucson, AZ: Chax Press, [1988?]
  • Empathy. Barrytown, NY: Station Hill Press, 1989.
  • Mizu. Tucson, AZ: Chax Press, 1990.
  • Sphericity (with Richard Tuttle). Berkeley, CA: Kelsey Street Press, 1993.
  • Ideal (with Richard Tuttle). Berkeley, CA: Kelsey Street Press, 1993.
  • Endrocrinology (with Kiki Smith). Berkeley, CA: Kelsey Street Press, 1997.
  • Four-Year-Old Girl. Berkeley, CA: Kelsey Street Press, 1998.
  • Audience (in progress). Brooklyn, NY: Belladonna Books / Boog Literature, 2000.
  • Nest. Berkeley, CA: Kelsey Street Press, 2003.
  • Concordance (with Kiki Smith). Berkeley, CA: Kelsey Street Press, 2006.
  • I Love Artists: New and selected poems. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2006.
  • Hello, the Roses. New York: New Directions, 2013.


  • One, Two Cups. Alexandria, VA: Alexander Street Press, 2004.
  • Kindness (staged at the Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe). Alexandria, VA: Alexander Street Press, 2004.
Mei Mei Berssenbrugge reads the opening of "Empathy"

Mei Mei Berssenbrugge reads the opening of "Empathy"

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[7]

See alsoEdit


External linksEdit

  • From "A Context of a Wave", published in Conjunctions 17, Fall 1991.
  • "Kate's Talk", a talk presented by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge at The Poetry Project, St. Mark's on the Bowery, October, 1987.
  • "New Form", opening remarks delivered at the "New Forms/New Functions" panel of the Poetry Project's Symposium, Poetry of Everyday Life.
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